I used to have chronic fatigue. Monday mornings were a drag. I was getting up half asleep, zombied around for a few hours just to go back to bed before sunset. My life was pretty much divided between unproductive work and insatiable sleep.
I hated winters. January chilled me to the bone and I could never warm up. Bugs liked me. I got colds and sore throats regularly. It seemed I could never win the battle with a virus. I felt I was defenseless. Did I even have any immune system? Judging by the amount of antibiotics I was devouring I did not think so.
I was healthy?!!
Doctors and pharmacists were kind to me. I was their regular. I was a good customer. I did not just complain for the sake of it. I was proactive. I always bought something in hope to feel better whether antibiotic, energy booster, or a miracle herbal tonic.
Blood work was normal. There was no sign of anemia, thyroid disorder, or any other energy-draining pathology. I was pronounced healthy. It was comforting to know that my health is in no danger, but the diagnosis of “healthy” did not shorten my sleeping hours or reduce antibiotic doses. Maybe antidepressants would help? (!!)
Is it all in my head?
Did I just hear that my doctor called me over-sensitive, emotionally vulnerable, and mentally unwell? I never thought anybody would call me hysterical thus I refuted to be diagnosed as such. This was exactly the moment I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was going to be doctoring my own body from then on. No, seriously. This was the plan.
It took many years but eventually I hung my doctor’s diploma up on the wall. The journey was long, but it was worth every effort. It was an eye opener as well. Not only I discovered the causes behind my own chronic fatigue, but also realized that the majority of “healthy” people I knew did not really feel that well at all.
Chronic fatigue among us
We live in a tired society. Every year there are 2.5 million google searches for “fatigue”, half a million for “chronic fatigue” and 1.5 million for anything “cfs” related. We are exhausted. Unfortunately, besides “red bull gives me wings”, a super-caffeinated java in the morning, and a cream cake in the afternoon, there seem not to be too many real solutions. Even top-notch doctors have empty shelves in energy boosting department.
While searching for the causes of my own chronic fatigue I have done many experiments and observations on myself and on my persevering patients. Following my educated expectations fatigue correlated with specific nutritional deficiencies, alcohol abuse, stress, exercise habits, as well as general health. But there were a few discoveries that surprised me. The biggest one was a strong relationship between blood pressure and energy levels.
Low blood pressure causes fatigue
There is very little talk about low blood pressure as a cause for fatigue yet it is not hard to see why this correlation exists. Heart pumps blood. Blood carries red blood cells which in turn carry oxygen. Once delivered to cells oxygen is converted to energy, an excellent fatigue antidote. It is not difficult to figure out that the harder the heart pumps the faster the red blood cells circulate and because of that more oxygen is delivered and more energy is produced. That’s exactly why vigorous exercise is always accompanied by faster heart beats. The heart simply speeds up to accommodate extra energy needs during exertion.
The opposite is true as well. Lower blood pressure delivers less oxygen and the body produces less energy. This has no consequences when blood pressure matches exactly the oxygen requirements, yet there is a cascade of negative effects when the heart lags behind its required workload.
Discover low blood pressure symptoms
An under-oxygenated body will try to self-remedy the bad situation. Yawning is a good example. Yawning forces more air into lungs. This is an automatic safety valve in case the body falls into a low oxygen zone. But not everyone has a yawning fatigue. Many feel tired, yet are far from falling asleep. If you are one of those don’t wait for yawning. It may never come. Look for other signs of sluggish circulation.
Low blood pressure is a cameleon. It can disguise itself as a multitude of different symptoms. Her is a partial list.
- Apparent dullness – slow thinking, difficulty in understanding reading material, lack of comprehension
- Unsteadiness – feeling of spaciness, whooziness, lightheadedness
- Anxiety – lack of zest for life, fearfulness, lack of confidence, lack of motivation
- Physical weakness – fatigue, dislike for exertion, apparent laziness
- Depression – feeling hopeless, loss of interest, changes in appetite
- Frequent headaches – dull pressing headaches, not the throbbing variety
- Weird sensations in the head – ear pressure and fullness, humming in ears
- Poor circulation – cold hands and feet, sensitivity to cold, fungal infection of toe
- Aesthetic difficulties – poor quality hair, hair loss, hair dullness, fragile nails
Don’t count on your doctor
How did you score on the above self-assessment? Did you find at least a partial resemblance of yourself there? If yes chances are you have low blood pressure despite your doctor telling you otherwise. With health practitioners looking out for high rather than low numbers, hypotension is frequently overlooked. Low numbers are not life threatening so they are usually not mentioned to a patient as a concern. After all, nobody dies of low blood pressure, just high blood pressure. Fatigue does not kill, just make you sleep more and earn less.
My low blood pressure numbers weren’t discovered by my family doctor either. All I heard was “your blood pressure is good”, so I trusted his words. But the reality was different. My blood pressure numbers were low-normal at his office, but low-low at home. I realized that only after I bought my own blood pressure monitor and started checking myself. My findings were surprising.
Blood pressure patterns
From then on I made suggestions to all my patients: always ask for test results expressed in numbers, not in opinions. Better yet, get your own blood pressure cuff and check at different times to find out your own blood pressure pattern. Yes, blood pressure pattern, because despite popular belief good blood pressure is never 120/80 mmHg, but swings from hypertensive to hypotensive zones when life demands it. Healthy blood pressure is incredibly changeable and testing it once at the doctor’s office is simply insufficient.
There is no need for desperation. Your standard blood pressure monitor will be able to assist. Just a few random checks and you will be amazed that your blood pressure has a life of its own. Don’t be surprised if the numbers go through waves of gentle highs and lows just to suddenly shock you with unexpected spikes and dips. Fluctuations are to be expected, but your job is to watch out for frequently repeating low numbers. They are tied to lower energy.
Tips for managing low blood pressure
If you have or suspect low blood pressure there are a few things you can do right away to at least temporary ease your situation.
- Drink minimum 2 liters of water a day – dehydration is a common cause behind low blood pressure and foggy thinking
- Favor cold water – cold water has a similar effect of rising blood pressure as coffee (!)
- Look at your meds – if you are on a few medications, maybe one of them is responsible for lowering blood pressure too much; ask your doctor if it can be adjusted or removed
- Say hello to salt – your salt shaker should be your friend especially if you sweat a lot; despite the bad reputation a certain amount of salt is necessary to keep blood pressure in check
- Skip the parties – alcohol is dehydrating and its effects can substantially contribute to lowering blood pressure
- Stock up on coconut water – coconut water has very similar composition to blood plasma. Drinking it expands blood volume better than drinking plain water.
- Start biking and rowing, avoid weight lifting – you need to exercise, but you need to stick to what is beneficial, not detrimental to compromised circulation
Discovering reasons behind fatigue does not have to be a daunting task. Sluggish circulation can be measured. Go ahead, play with your blood pressure cuff and discover yourself.
Blood pressure behavior is not a random phenomenon, but an extremely valuable health marker. Blood pressure pattern can reveal many underlying causes of fatigue including adrenal exhaustion, food sensitivities, anemia, nervous system failure, POTS, hypoglycemia, or hardening of arteries. You just need to know which pattern to look for.
If you are interested in doing some detective work you will find specific blood pressure tests and their interpretations in two of my books “The Ultimate Guide to Low & Fluctuating Blood Pressure” and “Revived! Proven Natural Solutions for Low Blood Pressure.” I wrote them as a triumph over chronic fatigue.
In the meantime add habits that will get your mojo going: drink a large glass of cold water on waking, add a generous pinch of salt to your breakfast and… skip the banana. What? Oh yes, there are a few surprising rules for low blood pressure.